Pop culture

'Lion King' cast roars to viral status with New York subway video

Aug. 8, 2014 at 6:45 PM ET

Maybe the subway can feel like a jungle during a typical New York City summer, but that doesn't mean spontaneous outbursts of "The Lion King" music are the norm.

But that's just what happened in a viral video featuring members of the long-running Broadway production, who took to Manhattan's A train and busted out a rousing version of "Circle of Life" for commuters.

Jamal Lee Harris is an ensemble member in the production, and his video uploaded this week to YouTube has more than 2.6 million views. Harris told TODAY.com that the cast was inspired by an Australian "Lion King" video, shot on an airplane, that went viral earlier this year, and he said they thought it would be cool to do a New York City version.

"We do eight shows a week, we only have one day off a week," Harris said. "I think it really speaks to the love of (the cast's) job and wanting to do something fun — free public performance, basically. When I watch the video, that’s what makes me the most excited — it was fun and spontaneous in that we thought of it one day and decided to do it the next."

Cast members can be seen sitting and standing while singing among New Yorkers, who seem genuinely pleased that they're getting a free performance on the ride uptown.

"The reaction (online) has been absolutely insane," Harris said. "It was something that I was hoping would get a little traffic, but we’ve heard from everybody. I’ve heard from people I haven’t heard from since elementary school! My mother played it for her office on a big projector."

Harris is convinced that a love for "The Lion King" and the unique nature of New York City and its inhabitants combined to make for viral gold. 

"It’s something that breaks up the mundane," he told TODAY.com. "I really do think it has a lot to do with the power of the show and the message of the songs. Half the cast is from South Africa, and they have an immediate and powerful connection to the language that they’re singing. Part of that comes through in the video."

Last year, "The Lion King" became the first Broadway production to hit $1 billion in cumulative grosses. The Disney musical opened in 1997.

For Harris and the cast, singing on the train was a bargain they were happy to offer.

"This was about sharing something that people pay $200 to see — taking it out of the theater and putting it out there in the context where it can be appreciated by the masses."

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